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As reports circulate that the Prime Minister plans to leave the Crown/First Nations gathering early to attend the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, six First Nations young people, including Shannen’s Dream youth spokesperson 16 year old Chelsea Edwards, are planning a trip of their own.
On February 6, 2012 First Nations young people from across Canada will meet with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva to explain what it feels like to grow up getting fewer government services such as education, health care and child welfare on reserves.
The trip was inspired by the late Shannen Koostachin, a youth education advocate from Attawapiskat First Nation, who had her own First Nations/Crown gathering in 2008 when she met with the Minister of Indian Affairs to demand proper schools and culturally based education for First Nations children on reserves.
She was tired of the horrible conditions of many First Nations schools and knew that even in First Nations that had proper schools, the federal government short-changed First Nations children by $2000 to $3000less per student per year for teachers, books and learning supports.
Her own “school” in Attawapiskat First Nation was composed of a bunch of run down portable trailers set beside a toxic waste dump. Shannen saw talented children in grade 5 dropping out because of the deplorable conditions and she wanted this to change. The Minister told her the government did not have enough money and she told him she would never give up because “school is a time for dreams and every kid deserves this”.
Shannen was nominated for the international children’s peace prize awarded by the Nobel Laureates in 2008. Sadly, she died in a car accident in 2010, waiting for her dream of equality for First Nations children to come true. Chelsea Edwards says that “I hope the Prime Minister will do the right thing but we are tired of waiting. Shannen was our Rosa Parks and we have been sitting at the back of the bus our whole lives and we don’t want to wait there anymore.”
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society says solving the inequities is not rocket science; “there are multiple solutions on the table and racial discrimination against children is not a legitimate fiscal restraint measure. Children only have one childhood. Canada must treat First Nations children fairly now.”
The Shannen’s Dream supports Parliamentary Motion 202 (introduced by MP Angus) to close the funding gaps and give First Nations children a chance to succeed and be proud of who they are.